If you were away from Canes hockey over the weekend, you missed a great couple days. Practices kicked off on Friday and the Caniac Carnival offered both non-hockey and hockey (two practices) festivities.
If you want to catch up on the practices, my recap of the first practice primarily with the NHL regulars is HERE, and my recap of the second practice primarily with the AHL and prospect-level players is HERE.
And so it begins…
On Monday night in Buffalo, the Hurricanes will kick off their 2017-18 preseason with a game against the Sabres at 7pm tonight. As far as I know, there will not be a video broadcast available, so your best best is WRALSportsfan.com or their mobile app to see the game through the eyes of Chuck Kaiton.
The game offers the first chance to see the 2017-18 team in game action, so that is obviously the focus of ‘what I’m watching’.
The Carolina Hurricanes lineup
The lineup is a little bit light on NHL forwards, does include four projected NHL defensemen and will feature AHL goalies Jeremy Smith and Alex Nedeljkovic.
Michael Smith from CarolinaHurricanes.com tweeted out the expected lines as:
#Canes forward lines:
— Michael Smith (@MSmithCanes) September 18, 2017
#Canes defensive pairs for tonight:
— Michael Smith (@MSmithCanes) September 18, 2017
1) A chance to make an impression
Jake Bean draws into the lineup tonight. In my Daily Cup of Joe today, I did not downgrade his long-term upside, but I did downgrade his chances of being a surprise for the 2017-18 season. On ice performance obviously carries 100 times the weight of one random media opinion, so he gets a chance tonight.
Martin Necas is probably the prospect rising the fastest right now narrowly surpassing Janne Kuokkanen who I have given that title to before the start of the Traverse City tourney. He will not see ice time next to scoring line NHLers, but one has to take the chance given and earn the next one. Josh Jooris provides a proven NHLer on one side, and Aleksi Saarela provides a capable finisher on the other, so it is not as if Necas does not have help.
Aleksi Saarela is also playing his first game in a Hurricanes uniform. He was not short of dynamic in a short stint with the Checkers at the end of the 2016-17 season before an injury ended his run abruptly. Can he use preseason to establish himself at the top of the depth chart in terms of pure goal scorers/finishers?
Phil Di Giuseppe is another to watch. This might sound completely overblown, but Monday’s game combined with a few others in preseason could be pivotal in the trajectory of his hockey career. With 13 other forwards signed to one-way deals and Di Giuseppe on a two-way deal, the math suggests that he is headed for Charlotte. But he gets a chance tonight in a NHL roster slot next to Jeff Skinner and Derek Ryan. Di Giuseppe’s greatest time as a Hurricane was the roughly half of a season he played at right wing on Skinner’s line in 2015-16. He proved capable of matching Skinner’s pace and being serviceable offensively such that he road shotgun for Skinner’s best run during that season. Of the players slotted for the top 9 right now, Stempniak is one of the few who could be vulnerable. It is up to Di Giuseppe to make a statement tonight and in whatever other preseason games he receives an opportunity.
Lucas Wallmark is another player highlighted in today’s Daily Cup of Joe that handicaps a few of the young dark horse candidates to rise up and seize an NHL roster slot. I also included him in a group of players that I described as “forgotten.” If the Hurricanes encounter an injury at the center position, I think Wallmark is the reasonable safe incumbent who the younger players would need to unseat to claim the NHL slot. Wallmark is maybe not as dynamic as a few other players, but he has a full year of AHL experience under his belt and brings a pretty balanced two-way game that can aid a smooth transition. He plays with AHLers looking to stand out and later win ice time with NHLers.
2) Sorting out the defense
I am on record dating back to early summer as being less certain about the Hurricanes’ 2017-18 blue line than most. Tonight we get to see four of the expected regulars. Brett Pesce at least temporarily unhitches from Jaccob Slavin and will play with Noah Hanifin tonight. And the expected third pairing of Haydn Fleury and Trevor van Riemsdyk will also be in action.
The thing that kills me most about having audio only for Monday’s game is losing the ability to watch how well Fleury and van Riemsdyk work off each other and also the chance to gauge van Riemsdyk’s ability to comfortably do the heavy lifting moving the puck for the third pairings.
The game represents a first measuring point for the 2017-18 defense and something that I will be tracking closely.
3) Extra points of interest
Gregory Hofmann who was drafted all the way back in 2011 and has been honing his craft in Switzerland since then. I put him loosely in the same category as Andrew Poturalski and Nate Schilkey (a Checkers’ signee) who completed four years of college and then parachuted into the Hurricanes prospect pool as 22-year olds. Hofmann will turn 25 years old in November, so he is not a prospect age-wise. Most notable on him is that Coach Bill Peters noted his play in a recent post-practice interview suggesting that just maybe he should not be lost in the shuffle.
Josh Wesley is NOT in the mix for the NHL for October, but he is a player that I have been impressed with at Traverse City and also through a couple days training camp. I will be curious to see how he looks against AHL/NHL caliber competition.